I recently read a thought-provoking statement posted by a friend on Facebook: repentance doesn’t wait for judgment. For many people (most?) repentance is a by-product of judgment. We’re sorry when we’re caught red-handed and face the prospects of punishment. The news is filled with examples; in fact it seems to be epidemic in our society. No one is sorry until they are caught.
Think about your own life. When was the last time you repented of a sin without someone finding out what you did? As a young boy I normally wasn’t sorry until I was caught with my hand in the proverbial cookie jar (confession is good for the soul!). In reality, I was sorry I had been caught, not that I had done wrong. And that’s how it is for so many people today – and unfortunately for so many Christians.
The Biblical definition of repentance is to turn away from sin and turn back to God (Hosea 6:1, Joel 2:12). But when? When is turning to God really repentance? I am tempted to say that repentance that waits for judgment is not godly repentance, however we have ample evidence in the Bible of people and nations repenting after God brought judgment on them. The Old Testament prophets exhorted Israel to repent before judgment came, however, they also pled with Israel to turn back to God after judgment had come.
That is not, however, the ideal situation. I’m sure that God would much rather we repented because we realized the enormity of our sin against Him. It also leaves open the question; did you repent because you were sorry for your sin or simply because you were caught in your sin? Godly sorrow for sin leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9, 10) the other may simply be regret.
One way to know the answer is by your subsequent actions. The New Testament refers to fruits worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8, Acts 26:20). Repentance is link to lifestyle. Regret isn’t. When you are in fact sorry for your sin, when repentance has taken place, it will lead to changes in your life. You will take the necessary steps to avoid the temptation in the future. Fruits worthy of repentance will be evident.
Stay in the Word